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How to Create a Work-Life Balance Strategy that Works

If you search for “work-life balance” you’ll see a lot of advice — just let go of perfectionism, work less hours, just love what you do. But it’s not just about reducing your hours, it’s about watching, and changing what you do in the Third Space (the in-between time) that really counts.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

We’ve all been there, right? Had a bad day at work, nothing went to plan, no time for a lunch break. Finally you get out of work, and start the commute home. Knowing you’ll need to log on again later tonight.

Or maybe you’re still working from home (on the kitchen table) and you should have finished an hour ago. Meanwhile the kids are whingeing, the cat’s trying to get your attention by clawing the couch, and you’ve missed your pilates session again. But you don’t want to stop now. You know that if you stop now, you’ll never get started again. Yes, you’re exhausted, but you just want to get this last task finished, you know, to make it easier for tomorrow.

Then what happens when you do finally stop?

Do you yell at the cat, kids, significant other? Do you collapse in front of the tv and try to turn your brain off? Or maybe a walk, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do to clear your head?

Is this the work-life balance you wanted?

Dr Adam Fraser, author of The Third Space recently spoke (virtually) at SEEK, about creating a delineator between work & home. He had some not so surprising stats to share —

“64% of people said that since working from home, they are thinking more about work in their personal time and 55% of people are now working 5–10 hours longer per week“

He showed us that your work-life balance lives in what he calls the Third Space, and research shows, if you get this right, there’s a surprising 43% mood improvement in the home.

Where’s the Third Space?

The First Space is where you are now. Maybe you’re working from home on the last task of the day, trying to put a presentation together for tomorrow’s meeting. The Second Space is what’s next. It could be spending time with the kids, the cat, or your partner. The Third Space is the space in-between those two tasks. And this is the space where work-life balance lives.

Time to stop and think about what you’ve done and where you’re going next — Source: Dr Adam Fraser

Here’s what you should be doing in the Third Space:

  • Reflect on what went well today
  • Relect on what you achieved
  • Reflect on how you got better
  • Rest (take a couple of deep breaths, in and out; or meditate if you have a few minutes to spare; or if you’re on a long commute listen to a podcast, or read a book)
  • Lastly, reset yourself, think about where you’re headed, how you should behave, who do you want to be when you walk through that door (or stand up from the kitchen table/work desk).

This is your Third Space, where you stop and regroup. That vitally important space between working and not working.

Photo by Mateusz Glogowski on Unsplash

Even if you work from home every day, maybe the commute can still be the answer. Adam spoke about one guy who got up, dressed for work, drove to a cafe for his usual morning coffee, then came home again. This signified the start of his working day. At the end of the day, he got in his car and drove to a park where he could get some exercise, then drove home again. And that signified the end of his working day and the start of home time.

Personally, I prefer to go for a walk at the end of each day. First I create a list of tomorrow’s tasks, then the laptop gets turned off. I walk to the front door, and once I’ve laced up my walking shoes, that’s my indicator that work is over for the day.

Using micro-transitions to keep your mind clear and focused

In addition to putting a line in the sand between work life and home life, you can also create space between one task and the next, and one meeting and the next.

The Third Space could be between meetings — photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

In this case, the First Space is where you are now. Maybe you’ve just come out of your regular team meeting. The Second Space is what’s next, perhaps it’s another meeting about the project that’s going live next week. The Third Space is the time between them. Even if it’s only a minute or two, it’s your space to stop and breathe.

These micro-transitions between tasks help to bring clarity to your role. If you get these transistions right using your Third Space, this is where you get work-life balance. Here’s where you get to ask “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”. And it’s a great way to ensure you don’t bring the previous session (especially if it involved more negativity than usual) into the next one.

Ideas for creating the Third Space in your day

Here are some tips we came up with in our session with Adam:

  • A walk around the block to signal the end of your day, even if it’s just 10 minutes
  • At the end of the working day, meditate for a few minutes when working from home, before engaging with anyone
  • When on the commute, use mindfulness to concentrate on the walk to the train station, and really look at the buildings and trees around you
  • When I walk to the train station, I try to walk through the park, it’s slightly longer, but better for the soul, and takes my mind off work
  • Visualise how you want to show up for your family — imagine how you want to greet them after you finish work, and have a plan for what will happen once you’re home (or the pc is switched off)
  • Get changed into work clothes to signal the start of your day. Then, to signal the end of the day, change back into casual clothing
  • Schedule meetings to end 5- 10 minutes earlier

And just a quick note about changing your meetings to end earlier — Microsoft is now giving us a Third Space —

How do you engage with your Third Space?

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Jenni

Jenni

Editor & Digital Content Manager at SEEK

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